His methodology is fluid and grand. Even the most realistic of his portraits are gleaned from a matrix of contexts, which does not mean that his work is ahistorical.
Rather, his paintings are punctuated by the influences and sources that, combined, describe the nature of shifting temporalities and ideas. ‘Histories in paintings are manipulated and thereby always change’, Gerber argues. And this is abundantly evident in the literature about his work over the past 30 years, with concepts such as kitsch and appropriation dominating early appraisals, to more recent reviews highlighting style and historical reference. Instead, Gerber’s paintings expose history as supple and refer to the erotic in art and the impact and rhythm of music and colour on the painting process.
Text by MCA Senior curator Natasha Bullock. Read the full essay in the Matthys Gerber catalogue, available at the MCA Store.
Listen to Gerber in conversation with Natasha Bullock
In the 1988 text painting Let it Be Me, Matthys Gerber renders his title’s emotive plea in a large, flowing white script. The words float above a meditative backdrop of coloured flowers bathed in an auratic glow, concentric decorative borders in lilac and warm gold framing the text as a kind of mantra. It is a lavish offering of bubble-gum transcendence.
Text by Mitchel Cumming. Read the full essay in the Matthys Gerber catalogue, available at the MCA Store.
Matthys Gerber’s work Sydney (2003) presents the artist as the tough coach with impossibly high standards, grinning trackside as he yells ‘Not good enough!’ – a disappointment and motivational boost in equal measure. In Sydney Gerber assumes the role of Aristotle (a philosopher coach) by offering Sydney pure potential: we could be better. And let’s remember that Gerber’s ‘constructive criticism’ came at a time when Sydney already assumed it was the best, basking in self-adulation after hosting the ‘greatest Olympic games ever’ in 2000.
Because this city ‘isn’t good enough’, it’s easy to interpret Gerber’s sentence as a ludic reading of Terry Smith’s well known 1974 essay ‘The provincialism problem’ – an assessment of the Australian art world’s subservience to global cultural ‘power centers’. Gerber posits the same argument as Smith but with the efficiency of a haiku and the typology of a 1950s advertisement. Also, Gerber is specifically charging Sydney as the weaker player, not Australia as a team (and how exactly did Melbourne get off the hook?).
Text by Shaun Gladwell. Read the full essay in the Matthys Gerber catalogue, available at the MCA Store.
Matthys Gerber’s Rala Rala (not in MCA exhibition) (2007) and Black Mojo (2007) are highly charged abstract paintings with figurative allusions. Drawing on the inkblot test developed by Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s (and the symmetrical cut outs and inkblot artworks familiar from primary school), Gerber poured and splattered paint onto unstretched canvases, which he then folded, first along a horizontal middle line, and then in several directions, to create imprints that ‘conceal the original gesture through duplication’.*
*All quotations are from emails to the author from Matthys Gerber, October 2010.
Sections of the work are then coloured-in or touched up through a process of ‘retracing the incidental marks with more deliberate brushstrokes’. Gerber calls this method ‘painting at two speeds’, and it results in a finely wrought tension between chance, spontaneity and mimicry of the kinds of instinctive mark making usually associated with gestural abstraction. For Gerber the ‘Rorschach’ method also serves as an ‘irritation to the abstract’ due to the viewer’s propensity to see imagery within it.
Text by Sue Cramer. Read the full essay in the Matthys Gerber catalogue, available at the MCA Store.
MCA acquired Painting for Peter in 2015, with funds provided by the MCA Foundation
Since the mid 1970s and late 1980s respectively, Melbourne-based artist Peter Tyndall and Matthys Gerber have, in distinct ways, made paintings about painting. Gerber’s work Painting for Peter 2003 is a homage to his friend Tyndall and combines key visual and conceptual aspects of both artists’ painting practices.
Gerber and Tyndall first became acquainted in the mid-1980s when exhibiting at the Sydney gallery Yuill|Crowley. During their ensuing friendship, Tyndall sent Gerber a hand-painted Christmas card featuring Tyndall’s signature square motif, repeated and on the diagonal in black-and-white. Years later, noticing that moisture had affected a corner of the card, Gerber decided to ‘save’ it by colouring it in. The colours he chose came from a remnant of flamboyantly coloured Victorian wallpaper that he found in a derelict house years before. He translated the colours into a repetitive pattern based on Tyndall’s design. Gerber has said of this moment: ‘I liked the association with Peter’s work of creating wallpaper, something I had already done and Peter’s work also suggested.’* It was this now collaborative work on paper that Gerber adapted into the large canvas Painting for Peter.
Text by Manya Sellers, MCA Assistant Curator. Read the full essay in the Matthys Gerber catalogue, available at the MCA Store.
*Email correspondence with the artist, 22 April 2015